Can you recall the spookiest game from your childhood? I don’t know that I really had a scary video game experience before Resident Evil 2 came out and made me jump all around. Others very likely found Alone in the Dark or something on the NES before that, but I never had that chance. One of the great auxiliary opportunities Count Lucanor afforded me with its existence is that I could potentially feel what it was like to have that visual aesthetic scare the sh*t out of me.
While it doesn’t go that far, I cannot deny how the crawling, mauling, whispering mass made by Baroque Decay sends chills up my spine.
In fact, it does so with an aspect that I struggle to find comparable in other games: the sound. Horror games are all about negative noises that amplify what does pop in the darkness. A vacuum makes everything inherently seem louder and sharper, leading to more focused stares and scares. All that is to say that sound shouldn’t be a new avenue for dread as many before have trampled this muddy puddle dry.
But Count Lucanor still manages to highlight the emptiness as well as the closeness to a flawless level. The first couple of minutes starts off innocently with natural sounds surrounding a young Hans’ home struggles. You meet a goat herder, an old woman and a donkey, your own dog, and all of it feels homely and serene. Despite there being no voice acting to flaunt, this sort of ambiance lifts that burden and sprints ahead with all steam.
After the veneer of the friendly strips away like a war-time Doki Doki Literature Club, the sound kicks into even further focus. Hans has to carry candles around large rooms and halls, leaving much of his path to darkness. This is where the sound unchains your imagination completely. What in the hell could make that noise? You’ll lose count of how many times you’ll ask that question internally before your eyes give you a comparison image you’ll probably be unprepared to handle.
That’s due to the unique mixture of pixel and anime art styles in Count Lucanor. You’ll mainly be digesting pixels as the game unfolds with the anime-style headshots really only in windowed snapshots, but their artistry is greatly affecting. None of the creatures or people are what they originally seem. The gore available is NC-17 level stuff that slips under that sort of treatment thanks to the retro-style, but that doesn’t stop the shocks from coming.
For one example of how all of this comes together, there is a later section where there is a waking person in a bed. You approach them and they seem happy to have company, asking you to partake of some sweets on the desk. The next frame shows a red filter, the person up from their bed and the anime art revealing blood dripping from their gaping smile. All the while, a low-tone scream is over the scene. At certain intersections such as this, absolutely everything that is horror is firing at once.
Count Lucanor does have some weaknesses to be found in the early section that chains you to a hub. This area tasks you with finding letters to spell a name while throwing a lot of items your way. The puzzles are fine, but as this is a strictly pacifist experience, headaches ensue within narrow corridors. One area in particular deals with a winding maze and some angry animals that can corner you for a feast in no time. The inclusion of some sort of stun weapon that – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – Daria’s Inferno implemented would’ve been terrific.
A nagging issue throughout is the clunky inventory system that doesn’t have any quick-key bindings. This makes the search for food or candles more desperate by default, but becomes annoying within just a few rooms. I also cannot stress enough how much I wanted to fight some of these creatures as bosses but ultimately felt lacking afterwards. That goes back to the terrific sights and sounds that bring you to that primed state…only to then remember that you’re just looking for an exit. That’s the nature of this beast, I suppose.
The Count Lucanor sits as a delightfully morbid nod to the world behind our darkest imaginative trances. Nearly everything works to a staggering degree given the size of the project, and it’s only in a handful of ways that you’ll ever want to pull your head from the cool brick of the castle floor. Even while I wish there was just a smidge more to the game, I can’t help but have spooky flashbacks anytime I’m in a dark room.
Count Lucanor Score: